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Colours VI: Green in Focus – Religion, Life, Death, Sex, Witchcraft...
Green is the colour of hope and development, fertility and charity, but can also symbolise greed, jealousy, envy, melancholy, immaturity, and nausea. In some countries it stands for danger; and in heraldry, green is one of the enamels, a symbol of "fortitude".
According to Böhme, green stands for "life". It is associated with the planets Mercury and Venus, with Wednesday and Friday, and with the constellation Taurus or Cancer. In China it is Yin. In Chinese colour philosophy, green is one of the five basic colours, associated with wood, east, and spring.
Green can be appetising, but it must not have a hue that reminds of mold. Generally, mold-green and rotting-purple tend to be nauseating.
The colour green is soothing and calming - it is not a coincidence that walls in many hospitals are green. It lowers the blood pressure and brings down the stress level. Possibly it reminds us of vegetation, our originally natural habitat. Yet "hospital green" is much paler than vegetation.
In Celtic culture there was the Green Man, a fertility god in whose name sexual orgies were celebrated during Beltane. That was a celebration, a fertility rite, where all sexual restriction was laid aside. In a previous article, I wrote:
“Children born nine months later were considered as fathered by "Robin", and, at least in later Celtic times, they were given the surname "Robinson". Robin Hood, as named Robin, has some connection with this folklore, although it is not clear exactly how. Also note that he is traditionally dressed in green.”
There is another Celtic stream where green is the symbol of darkness, death and evil.
In Medieval England, green was associated with prostitutes and sex - certainly a Celtic influence, and later also with witches and the supernatural. This symbolic colour is used also by modern witches in the Wicca movement. Moreover, green is claimed to be the colour of the stone which had fallen from the crown of Lucifer. This idea was more widely disseminated by Marion Green as late as 1991, but builds on older sources.
Green was also seen as preceding black: life preceded death. The sense that green was an omen of death was so strong that wearing green at, for example, weddings, was viewed as a taboo. This has been expressed as "Black follows green"; "Wear green and soon you'll wear black"; "Buy a green dress and your next will be black for mourning"; or "Wear green today, wear black tomorrow".
In Egypt green ["wahdj"] was, not surprisingly, a symbol of new life and growth. The association with nature's green vegetation is too striking to be ignored. Almost every culture has this connection in one way or another. It is also a colour associated with Osiris, who is not only black, but also "The Great Green".
The eye of Horus ["wadjet"] had protective, even healing powers - and it was often made of green stone. They also used to say "to do green things", which meant to act with a positive attitude.
A common source of green was malachite ["wahdj", which actually means green], but they also used the synthetic verdigris ["hes-byah"], made by corrosion of copper, and chryscola.
Turquoise ["mefkhat"] was made from the stone with that name. The goddess Hathor was the Lady of Turquoise. In ancient Persia, turquoise was used to ward of the evil eye. This colour is calming.
In Chinese tradition, green has the lowest status of all colours. During the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), it was, together with cyan, the colour of the clothes of common people.
During the Tang dynasty, officers and officials marked their rank by the colour of their uniforms. Green was the lowest, although it seems that there was no humiliation involved. Then criminal punishment came to include having to wear a green hat for a specific time. At that point it began to be really sensitive and clearly humiliating.
From 1345 on, prostitutes had to wear specific clothes in purple and black, while the male members of their families had to wear green hats. This regulation has been abolished in modern China, but no man voluntarily wears a green hat. Actually, a man is said to "wear a green hat" if his wife is unfaithful.
In Buddhism it is the colour of action, a symbol of Amoghasiddhi.
The green of Islam, which symbolises perfect faith, and more than any other colour is associated with this religion, has many explanations. One is that the prophet's cloak was green, or that his tribe had a green banner. Green is also mentioned in the Qur'an, as it is stated that believers in paradise are dressed in green:
They have deserved gardens of Eden wherein rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and will wear clothes of green silk and velvet, and will rest on comfortable furnishings. What a wonderful reward; what a wonderful abode!
On them will be clothes of green velvet, satin, and silver ornaments. Their Lord will provide them with pure drinks.
Then there is the pre-Islamic figure, "Al-Khidr", the Green Man. He is said to have eternal life, and has often been identified "the nameless servant of God", as is mentioned in the Qur'an, in Surah 18: 60-82. Read more about Al-Khidr in The Green Man II: Al-Khidr, Teacher of Moses.